- Post is under moderationEVERY CLOUD… #BMW-525e / #BMW-525e-E28 / #BMW-E28 / #BMW /
This show-stopping E28 has gone from rags to riches. Words: Josh Wilson. Sometimes your dream purchase can turn out to be a bit of a nightmare. Fortunately, a bit of TLC can make all the difference, as this sexy E28 demonstrates. Photos: Courtney Cutchen.
“Something about the lines and old-school styling grabbed my attention right away”
Finding the right car for pouring our hard earned wages into can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to vintage chassis. Scouring for sale ads, dealing with sellers and getting all the details can be a bit of a chore but at some point we reach the rewarding conclusion and find ‘the one’. For some we get exactly what was expected in our newly purchased project car but others, like Rob Amason, find themselves desperately seeking a silver lining when a purchase tailspins into a downward spiral. In 2011, Rob began the search for his next project after migrating from the Volkswagen scene to the BMW community. Originally Rob was set on an elegant white five-speed E34 but during the search came across a well-maintained E28 and thoughts of owning an E34 became a distant memory.
“Something about the lines and old-school styling grabbed my attention right away,” he explained. “I immediately started daydreaming about the possibilities of what the car could become.”
Once Rob had made contact with the owner he quickly realised that he was speaking to a devoted BMW enthusiast who had decided to let go of his E28 as he had moved to newer models. Even though the owner was keen to sell the car he didn’t want to sell it to just anyone. He had found it sitting under a tree years ago and nursed it back to health and the thought of some young kid buying the car and just hacking it up made him cringe.
So in the end, it took Rob two months of trading emails and calls trying to coax the owner to sell the E28. His persistence finally paid off, though, and he became the owner of what he thought would be the perfect base for his build. But after his E28 rolled off of the car hauler fresh from California, Rob found himself with a car that wasn’t in the condition that the previous owner had stated.
He quickly noticed that the respray lacked quality, the interior had more wear than the pictures revealed and the Style 5s that came with the car were beyond saving due to being chipped and kerbed. The beginning of his build had begun with heartbreak but then came the silver lining: under the cheap paint was a body that was completely rust-free. Even the floor was intact.
The exterior of this classic looking E28 has been kept clean, showcasing its timeless body lines. Rob carried out a full respray in the original Royal Blau that this car would have come off the production line with back in 1988. He also did us all a favour by tossing the original US-spec bumpers in the dumpster and replacing them with European-spec items, which we think help massively clean up the look of not just this but all older BMWs. Other accents like Euro headlamps, Euro grilles and Euro all-red tail lamps were added to complete the look.
Next on Rob’s ‘to-do’ list was the interior as he wasn’t a fan of the original pearl beige and black interior. The car was completely gutted with the help of Will Villegas – a fellow enthusiast. Recaro Evo 8 front seats and a rear seat from an M5 now reside inside his E28 which have been completely reupholstered along with the doorcards, handles and gear gaiter. Custom upholstery seems to be hard to pull off in vintage BMWs but Rob has managed to give the interior a fresh look while still keeping the overall feel of the car the same, a seemingly simple task that is rarely accomplished as well as this.
The biggest challenge for Rob to tackle was the air suspension. Today, finding an air setup for older BMWs is a pretty simple task but back in 2011 before the air suspension explosion it was not so easy. The only E28 on air at this time, in the States at least, was the infamous Rusty which was built by Mike Burroughs who has graced these very pages.
Knowing that Mike’s setup was a one-off setup, Rob enlisted the expertise of Drew Dorbritz from Dorbritz Design in Texas. Rob and Drew sat down and brainstormed what they hoped to accomplish and also what options existed out there to use as a base. Once they had done the groundwork, they worked alongside performance air suspension specialist Air Lift to create a setup with a balance of form and function.
This pioneering work would also serve as a roadmap for future E28 and E30 owners looking to do similar modifications. As you can imagine, in order to get an E28 with its control arms sitting on the pavement it was necessary to carry out some fabrication work, mainly due to the stock spindles and struts. However, despite the low ride height no modifications to the E28’s body was required, leaving the elegant lines unmolested. To manage the Air Lift suspension, Rob went with Accuair’s eLevel Air Management which is tucked away – adding to the car’s clean composition.
Speaking of being tucked away, Rob has been through a multitude of wheels with this E28 but currently the BMW is sitting on a set of chrome Rotiform SJC Race wheels. These fill the arches nicely as they measure 9x17” in each corner. Peeking out behind those eye-grabbing Rotiforms is a custom Futura Design Big Brake Kit up front with E32 750iL brakes helping out in the rear.
Even with all the upgrades to the suspension, interior, and drivetrain Rob still loves the fact that this E28 still has that oldschool feel. “I love all the quirky little things that come with being the caretaker of an antique class car,” he told us with a big smile. “The fact that sometimes I have to give the dash a gentle tap to get the lights to turn on or that in cold weather I have to allow the car to warm up a bit before getting on the road doesn’t matter at all.
That’s what I like about it! It has real character. I even love the smell of the interior… it’s a scent that only a 26-year-old car can give you.” We agree, it’s an encompassing experience that carmakers can only dream to achieve with their modern offerings. It’s a shame that some will never experience it as they don’t see it as character, rather it’s an inconvenience. It’s been a three-year love affair for Rob and his beautiful #1988 E28, a journey that began with its troubles but has resulted in a resurrection of a beloved chassis with an elegant aura. For Rob, though, it has been more than just building and restoring this E28 as he’s made some good friends through his hobby. “Thankfully this build has helped introduce into my life a great number of relationships that I normally wouldn’t have had the opportunity to enjoy,” he said. “And while I built this car with a specific vision in mind, it was also with determination that I wanted to build something that was a true reflection of who I am as a person and something that everyone could appreciate. There is never an instance where everyone will be satisfied with what you’ve done but when I take account the relationships that have been forged over this build, the best trophy of all as been the friendships I’ve made.”
ENGINE: 2.7-litre straight-six #M20B27 / #M20 / #BMW-M20 , upgraded head with 885 casting and dual-valve springs, upgraded camshaft, upgraded intake and exhaust valves, upgraded harness and ECU to 173 #Bosch-Motronic with performance chip, powdercoated intake manifold and valve cover, fully polished and upgraded throttle body.
CHASSIS: 9x17” ET10 (front and rear) #Rotiform / #Rotiform-SJC Race wheels with 3” lips and Falken Ziex tyres. #Air-Lift-Universal-Double-Bellow bag with air strut (front), #Air-Lift Universal Sleeve Bag air strut (rear), #AccuAir #eLevel air management system with rocker control, Dual polished tanks with hardlines in custom trunk enclosure, Dual chrome #Viar silent compressors, custom #Futura-Design Big Brake Kit with two-piece discs with anodised blue hats, calipers powdercoated in #Alpine white with blue logos (front), drilled and grooved discs (front), stainless brake hoses (front), new master cylinder, rear brakes upgraded to E32 750iL brakes.
EXTERIOR: Full European conversion comprising Euro front and rear bumpers, Euro headlamps, front Euro grill, rear Euro all-red tail lamps.
INTERIOR: Custom Recaro Evo 8s (front), custom M5 rear seats, custom doorcards, handles and gear gaiter, NRG quick release steering wheel hub and adapter, NRG Wood grain steering wheel and matching gear knob.
AUDIO: #Sony GS Series Audio with XS-GS1720 and XSGS1720S speakers, 12” XS-GS120LD DVC subwoofer, XM-GS400 4/3/2 channel amplifier, XM-GS100 Class D subwoofer amplifier, MEX-BT4100P Bluetooth receiver with Pandora, custom sub and amp enclosure built by German Audio Specialists.
THANKS: First and foremost, I’d like to thank my sons who’ve spent their fair share of hours handing me wrenches, cleaning parts and pushing it in and out of the garage when it wasn’t running. Those friends that took time from their own busy schedules to turn a wrench here and there in exchange for beer and laughter: Will Villegas, Greg Strube, Drew Dorbritz and Team16NiSS. My supports: Meguiars, Futura Designs, German Audio Specialists, Sony Audio, #UndergroundGrfx , Accuair , Kustomz Unlimited and Dorbitz Designs Kustom Shoppe. Special thanks to Courtney Cutchen for the photography work, Josh Wilson for the literary work and CAtuned for the opportunity.
Custom Futura Design BBK sits behind 9x17” Rotiform SJC Race wheels, which tuck perfectly when aired-out.
Easily one of the shiniest air-ride boot builds we’ve seen, with polished hardpipes galore, and it’s immaculate.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
- Post is under moderationRECIPE FOR SUCCESS
Everyone loves an E28 and this unassuming 525e has been transformed by an S38B36 swap.
Take one #BMW-525e-E28 . Garnish with an obscure colour. Stir in a vast engine. Sprinkle over a few unique touches, and infuse with a piquant fusion of childhood dreams and heartfelt tributes. That’s the recipe for a delicious E28… Words: Daniel Bevis Photos: Andy Tipping
There’s a perennial and enduring problem with motorists in the world today: misplaced ‘M’ badges. Every day we see BMWs with erroneous badging glued to their rumps in a haphazard and higgledypiggledy manner, fooling no-one and diluting the specialness of true M-ness for everybody else. Bone-stock 520i saloons with M5 emblems, M-badged E46s with 320d motifs still in place, chunky SUVs wonkily rebranded ‘MX5’, despite that being the name of a rather different kind of car. It seems that everyone wants to tap into that hallowed motorsport heritage, regardless of such frivolous fripperies as honesty, logic, or appropriateness.
Sometimes, however… sometimes it’s acceptable. Bear with us on this, it’ll all make sense. You see, the E28 you’re looking at here is, in fundamental DNA at least, a #BMW-525e . And yet it’s wearing the fabled M badge, and we’re perfectly okay with that. How can this be? Fear not, all will become clear…
But let’s start with the who rather than the how, shall we? Jim Mountain is the name to note down, and he’s a man who’s been perving over Beemers since you were in short trousers. “I’ve been into BMWs as long as I can remember,” he reminisces with a smidge of whimsy. “I did an apprenticeship in the bodyshop of the local main dealer and stayed there for ten years or so before moving into the family business. As a kid I remember pictures of M1 Procars in my uncle’s MotorSport magazines, and a photo of an airborne 3.0 CSL at the Nürburgring – I was hooked from then, and knew I had to have an E30 as soon as I could insure one!”
Sure enough, after rolling the dice with fate in a protracted bout of ‘the waiting game’, Jim found himself with the keys to an E30 318i two-door in his hand, a car he wasted no time lowering over some oh-soperiod MiM rims. The scene was set, the passion was firing on all cylinders, and it was only a matter of time before more blueand- white propellers followed: an #1986 325i introduced his right foot to the torquey swells of the straight-six, quickly usurped by an engine-failure 318i that Jim and his mates hoiked the motor out of before spraying Dakar yellow and slathering in Recaros and 17” Hockenheims, before moving on to another 325i and a bona fide E30 M3 Evo 1 on BBS RSs and Konis. It’s fairly safe to say, then, that he’s a man who knows what he likes. And what he likes is modifying BMWs. We’re in good company.
“I also had an #BMW-E28 520i, largely thanks to Mike Burroughs,” Jim recalls. Funny how the name of the ubiquitous Stanceworks founder crops up so often in our E28 features, isn’t it? The dude has a lot to answer for. “It was rough, but fun,” he continues, “but I wanted to find a better one – something more solid, but still cheap enough that I could modify it without feeling too bad about it! And when I saw this one on eBay – in Akazien green, which I hadn’t seen before – I knew it had potential, despite being a 525e auto. It was in pretty good condition, in fact – all original paint, with a few age-related marks and dents, and it’s still like that today. I like its timeworn look.”
That said, it wasn’t a car that wanted Jim to just jump in and enjoy. In addition to the usual front footwell and inner sill rust issues, it wasn’t all that keen on starting up and letting him take it home. “It wouldn’t fire up at all when I went to view it in Nottingham,” he says, “so I left it and went to look at another one in Derby. That one was quite a rare manual 525e – but really rotten. Then I got a call from the guy with the green car, which he’d got running; we made a deal, and I drove back to Norfolk in it.” So far so good, then. But where does the M badge enter the story? Patience, reader, patience – we’ll get there in due course. Jim’s just got his car home, let’s see what he does next…
“The modifying didn’t actually start for another year,” he says. “I took the car over to my mate Spen’s, and he pulled out the old 2.7 lump and autobox after I had stripped the interior. It then spent about six months on blocks on his shingle drive! I’d wanted to put an S50 in it but Spen convinced me to fit the S38B36 for strength and reliability reasons.” And there we have it, ladies and gentlemen: a logical rationale for stuffing an E34 M5 engine in there. Strength and reliability. Sure. And there’s the fringe benefit of having enough horsepower to knock the Earth ever-so-slightly off its axis, of course.
Jim was sufficiently enthused by the idea to dive into buying the first S38 he came across, complete with transmission, and Spen set about wriggling the oily bits into the appropriate position while Jim busied himself with fabricating various mounts for the engine, gearbox, and assorted ancillaries, including a setup to relocate the coil. “Spen dealt with the loom mods, which was no easy job as E34 ECUs live on the opposite side of the car to the E28’s, but he sorted that,” he says. “Then we tackled the brakes, fitting the E34 M5 setup along with a Clio servo custom-fitted to clear the plenum. When Spen was happy with all the work so far, he took the engine out again and I took the car over to another mate Terry’s workshop to take care of the rust issues, while Spen took the head off and rebuilt it.”
It was all looking rosy at this stage, with the mods progressing well and the car not really fighting back to any great degree, and with the refreshed engine back in situ it was treated to a custom Pro Alloy radiator and a Fritz’s Bits manifold and exhaust system to keep everything functioning at maximum efficiency. At least, that was the theory. You know how annoying it is when your grandma says things like ‘patience is a virtue’, and ‘everything comes to he who waits’? Yeah, she’s right. You should always listen to your grandma, no matter how deranged she may appear. Jim shouldn’t have bought the first M5 engine he found. It turned out to be a bit of a pig.
“It was all running, just… not well,” Jim grimaces. “Spen spent a few weeks swapping bits on and off from his own M5, testing everything for weak links, trying to identify what was wrong. He unpicked his loom mod and then refitted it, but it still wouldn’t run properly. The head came off for testing but there was nothing amiss there. We were mystified.” What would you do in this situation? Persevere with a relentless programme of trial-and-error testing, ultimately stripping the whole thing back to first principles? Or would you take the ‘sod it’ approach? Jim opted for the latter. “Time was slipping away, we’d been at it 18 months, so I just bought another engine,” he says. And guess what? That one didn’t want to play ball either. “It was pulled apart, rebuilt, refitted, but it didn’t run well. We just couldn’t get the emissions down.
After chasing problems round and round, we finally deduced that the brand-new lambda sensor we’d bought was faulty – having replaced that, everything was fine!” A merry dance, then, but it all came good in the end. The upshot of all this enduring endeavour is a healthy 315hp coming from a legitimate M5 motor, with an M5 gearbox, running through a modified E12 propshaft to an M5 LSD. That M badge is fully justified after all then, right?
Of course, you can’t just throw a load of 1990s supercar-baiting grunt into a 1980s chassis and expect everything to be sunshine and lollipops. We’ve already touched upon how the lads grafted in the E34 M5’s beefier brakes, but there was more to be done under the skin in order to make a car that was as competent as it was cocky. Suspension is key to a build like this, and Jim had charged the coil-toting eggheads at Gaz with the task of building up a set of bespoke coilovers to be fit for purpose. And with the stopping and the handling taken care of, it was time to tackle the aesthetics. Just what would be the right thing to do with the revered ol’ sharknose?
“I knew I wanted to keep the original paint, it’s such an unusual colour,” Jim enthuses. “Aside from the wheels and stance, I wanted the whole car to look as original as possible. I did initially remove all the trim, ready to prep for a respray, but I quickly changed my mind and put it all back together again so it could wear its 30-year-old paintwork with pride! It’s got a slightly nosedown stance, and I wanted the rims pushed right to the edge of the arches, so the rears have been rolled to accommodate.” The rims in question are a set of staggered #BBS RCs, which Jim originally sprayed with bodycoloured centres, although the gold that they’re rocking now is certainly more of an eye-catcher on the showground. There’s also a set of Schnitzer Type 1 Racing three-pieces that appear on the car from time to time, just to mix things up a bit. The interior enjoys plenty of this keenness for detail, too, with the black-and-charcoal houndstooth fabric from the seats of Jim’s other E28 having been liberated to re-cover the Recaros that are now in place here. It’s little details like this that really make a build, isn’t it? “I had to leave the Harry Moss motion sensor on the dash, too, as a tribute to the ’80s!” he grins.
“My favourite mod is the engine, for sure,” Jim assures us, and it’s pretty obvious why that is. “It makes me smile every time I’m behind the wheel. But when I park it up, I also love looking back at the car as I’m walking away, seeing my dad’s old numberplate on there that I fitted as a tribute to him when he died.” This has all been a very personal journey for Jim, with the help of his buddy Spen and a whole cast of extras, and you can be damn sure that his dad would be proud of the achievement. And Jim’s not finished yet, not by a long shot. “Air-ride is a possibility,” he says, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “And a V8, naturally.” So yes, we can forgive the M badge here. It actually fits rather nicely.
“Aside from the wheels and stance, I wanted the whole car to look as original as possible”
“Spen convinced me to fit the S38B36 for strength and reliability reasons”
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 3.5-litre straight-six #S38B36 #S38 (from E34 M5), Fritz’s Bits stainless steel manifold and exhaust system, #Ramair filter, custom alloy radiator with Spal electric fan from Pro Alloy, Mocal oil cooler, custom mounts, brackets and fittings, 5-speed E34 M5 gearbox, E12 propshaft, E34 M5 LSD.
CHASSIS: 8x17” (front) and 9x17” (rear) #BBS-RC009/010 wheels with 205/40 (front) and 215/40 (rear) Yokohama Parada Spec 2 tyres, custom #Gaz coilovers with adjustable rebound, 550lb front springs, 275lb rear springs, Whiteline anti-roll bars, #Powerflex bushes in front suspension arms, #BMW E34 M5 brakes.
EXTERIOR: Original #Akazien green paint, rolled rear arches.
INTERIOR: Black and charcoal houndstooth interior with recovered #Recaro-Speed front seats, #AC-Schnitzer steering wheel, 160mph speedo.
THANKS: Spen (now set up in business as BMP Conversions), my mates Terry and Ray for workshop space and their help, my mum and dad for garage space, Guy’s mum for upholstery, and Patty for precision machine work. And my girlfriend Nic for her love of cars!
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- Post is under moderationBUYING GUIDE #BMW-520i-E28 , #BMW-525e-E28 , #BMW-525i-E28 and #BMW-528i-E28
Buying Guide All you need to know if you’re looking at a smaller-engined version of the classic E28 5 Series.
The E28 is fast becoming an appreciating classic and if you want one to enjoy on a regular basis, it’s the six-cylinder non-M versions you should be looking at… Words: Simon Holmes Photography: Dave Smith.
It’s hard to imagine that BMW started work on the second generation of 5 Series some six years before it was launched, but there was good reason for the pre-planning. The previous E12 had been hugely successful and BMW was keen to maintain the lead it had pulled on its rivals. However, when the E28 arrived in the UK in early 1982 it was immediately criticised for its conservative styling that didn’t seem to look a whole lot different from the previous model launched some nine years before! But although the two models shared the same roof pressing, virtually every other panel, part and component was different and improved upon.
For a start, the E28 platform was lighter, lower and more aerodynamic. It featured a shorter wheelbase and the suspension incorporated a double-pivot design at the front, borrowed from the E23 7 Series. At the rear, there was an improved axle design to increase both stability and ride comfort. Comfort was also a focus inside, as the seats were bigger and the rear cabin space increased for both headroom and legroom. The dashboard was also angled towards the driver and double door seals reduced road noise.
Electronics played a bigger part this time round, as an on-board computer and a new sophisticated Service Interval Indicator were introduced, along with other optional, modern day luxuries such as power steering, central locking, electric windows and ABS. Power-wise, the E28 was launched with a number of engines ranging in size, all of which were carried over from the E12, but modern upgrades such as fuel injection ensured they were up to scratch. The straight-six range started with the 520i, powered by a fuel injected 1990cc ‘small-block’ #M20B20 engine, producing 125hp and 122lb ft of torque. This equated to a 0-62mph time of 11.8 seconds and a top speed of 115mph when connected to the standard manual gearbox. Next in the six-pot family came the #BMW-525i , which was fitted with the larger ‘bigblock’ M30 engine #M30B25 . Capacity was up to 2494cc and power output increased to 150hp and 159lb ft of torque, which produced a 0-62mph time of 9.8 seconds with a top speed of 125mph, again with the manual transmission option. Last up, fitting in before the more sporting M535i model was the #BMW-528i , which again used the larger M30 engine. In the 528i, the #M30B28 2788cc unit produced a gusty 184hp and 177lb ft of torque, which offered impressive performance thanks to a 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds and a top speed of 134mph. A five-speed manual gearbox was standard but on all six-cylinder cars there was also an automatic option. At first, this was a ZF3HP three-speed transmission but that was soon replaced with an updated four-speed #ZF4HP in 1983.
By #1984 , BMW was forced to address a demand by the public for more fuel-efficient models. This is where the 525e entered the picture. The ‘e’ designation stood for ‘eta’ and the model was based upon the American-spec #BMW-528e that had been introduced a year-and-a-half earlier. The #BMW-525e featured a unique 2.7-litre version of the ‘small-block’ M20 engine, fitted with a new Bosch fuel injection system for more accurate control of the engine, which improved performance and emissions. Power was down to 125hp but with 177lb ft of torque to match and in the UK it was only available with the four-speed automatic. This affected performance, which was listed as 0-62mph in 12.2 seconds with a top speed of 118mph.
Other enhancement updates followed in the final years of the E28, and in #1985 the #BMW-520i received a mild revamp that saw an improved fuel injection system increase engine output to 129hp and 128lb ft of torque. To accompany the changes, the axle ratio was also lowered for manual transmission cars and low profile tyres were added for the first time. In 1986, the 520i was upgraded to discs at the rear, bringing it in line with the rest of the six-cylinder cars that already had them as standard and the interior received some minor changes across the range. A majority of cars from this time until the E28’s end were equipped with the ‘Lux’ specification pack, which included alloy wheels, electric windows and mirrors, central locking and a sunroof.
The E28 outsold the previous E12 but the styling quickly aged the car, which meant its lifespan wasn’t as long as its predecessor. Production ended in #1987 after a six-year worldwide run to make way for the replacement E34 model.
As a classic car to live with and enjoy on weekends, the E28 is ideal. It’s modern and practical enough to actually use whilst still feeling decidedly retro. And if you plan on using it regularly, then the six-pot cars make more sense than the less torquey four-pot, as the silky smooth engines suit their character. Plus they are usually better spec’d.
If you do want one, be aware there aren’t many to choose from, so be prepared to make compromises rather than deciding on a particular model, in a certain colour. Also consider that there’s not a whole lot of difference between the 520i and 525e in terms of performance, it’s only the 525i manual and 528i that feel notably faster than the other models. You should be buy based on the condition over anything else. There is plenty to check so make sure you’re up to scratch and always take the car on a testdrive. An E28 that feels unresponsive and tired, both in terms of engine power and general handling, will indicate how well it’s been looked after and loved. Look for proof of that, too. A car that’s 30 years old should have a good amount of history to show it’s been treated well.
Price-wise, it’s hard to find a working six-pot E28 below £1500 now. Decent cars that are in good shape will easily cost double that, so budget as much as you can or if you’re limited, at least be prepared to take on a car in need of work. At the top end of the scale, we found a mint looking 528i with 51,000 miles for a shade under £9000.
The E28 wears its miles well, although the driver’s seat bolster tends to wear at high miles. A specialist trimmer can repair them but it’s not cheap. The other option is to find a good replacement, which is hard to do, although it helps that E30 3 Series seats bolt straight up to the E28 runners. With some modification the later E34 5 Series seats can also fit. Over the years, the sun can fade the parcel shelf colouring and crack the top of the dashboard. Both can be either repaired or replaced.
Electrics are your next problem, so find out if everything works as it should. Slow or seized electric windows or mirrors will be down to either the motors or switches and these can both be cleaned and lubricated, which usually brings them back to life. Sunroofs can seize through lack of use, while a broken heater is more likely to be a faulty matrix or valve. If the central locking is showing signs of dying then check and replace its control module that is fitted in the driver’s side A-pillar.
More serious issues can occur with the instrument clusters. If the service indicator is dead then there’s a good sign that other gauges will soon follow if they haven’t already stopped working, as the cluster incorporates a battery that corrodes and damages the circuit board its mounted to. The earlier, pre-1986 cluster boards cannot be repaired, so a good secondhand one has to be sourced, but supply is drying up. Later, face-lifted clusters can be repaired. The faulty cluster will also tend to knock out the OBC and, eventually, every other gauge.
Steering and suspension
There are plenty of reasons why an E28 might feel a bit vague, lifeless and tired when it comes to the handling and steering side of things. This tends to ruin the feel of the car but it can usually be cured relatively simply and cheaply.
Starting with the rear, if there’s a light knocking noise when pulling away or if the car has fishtailing tendencies at speed, then the axle beam bushes are most likely worn and it will slowly get worse. However, it’s quite a tricky job to replace them unless you have the correct tools and it’s always worth fitting high quality replacements that will last. If the car experiences wheel hop or a harsh vibration when pulling away quickly, then the trailing arm bushes will need replacing.
At the front end, TCAs wear out, as do the bushes fitted to them and a shudder when braking is a sign they are on the way out. A knocking noise when moving the steering wheel at stationary indicates the Pitman arm bushes or tie rods are worn. A light rattle when driving is more likely to be worn anti-roll bar bushes. Worn ball joints are a little more serious as, left to get worse, they can cause further damage to other components, so any strange handling tendencies should be investigated immediately.
Another common fault that makes the car drive badly is the steering box mount failing, which causes a terrible wayward feeling from the front end. Although the mount can be welded back in place, it can break again, so it’s advisable to add a reinforcing locating dowel at the same time. Last of all, dampers often get tired and corrode if they haven’t been replaced in a while. Even if they aren’t leaking fluid it’s worth replacing them if they look a bit dilapidated, as the spring cups have been known to rot and fail, which is dangerous.
Transmission and drivetrain
The manual ‘boxes are near unbreakable, even after huge miles, but they can begin to feel a little loose and tired after time. This is due to worn linkages, selector shafts and bushes. Replacing these will make the ‘box feel tight again. Often just replacing the gear stick bush alone will cure most of the slack feeling, but it can be tricky.
The ZF auto ‘boxes are generally pretty reliable units but they require regular fluid changes to remain in tiptop state so look for evidence of this in the service history. Otherwise, high mileage begins to kill them and the torque converters can also fail. Both the manual and automatics are prone to leaking a little oil, which is usually caused by faulty selector shaft and/or output shaft seals. #ZF4HP22 / #ZF3HP
Elsewhere, the transmission, diff mounts, propshaft centre bearings and couplings all tend to perish over time, creating ‘donk’ noises and vibrations at low speeds. Also make sure that the clutch master cylinder mounting bracket is in one piece as they are known to break.
Both the M20 and #M30 engines are very strong but they do require regular maintenance, especially as they get older. Oil changes are recommended every 6000 miles and coolant should also be changed regularly. The #M20 engine in the 520i and 525e uses a timing belt and this should be changed every 50,000 miles or so, though as these cars get older it seems popular to change them even more regularly than that. It’s always worth doing the water pump at the same time as it’s far more accessible with the belt off.
The M30 engine in the 525i and 528i uses a timing chain instead of a belt, and it shouldn’t need replacing unless, for example, the engine has done 300,000 miles and it sounds rattly. The plastic chain guides are worth replacing if the engine is apart, though.
If either engine has a hesitant idle then check for corroded vacuum lines first, before moving on to air-flow meter and the cold start valve. If there’s a smell of fuel either in the cabin or under the bonnet then it’s likely the fuel tank is leaking where it meets the filler neck, or the fuel lines are beginning to corrode, which doesn’t cost much to replace but take time.
Other than that, it’s the cooling system on any E28 that needs close inspection. On the testdrive make sure the temperature gauge doesn’t read erratically. It should go up to and remain around the halfway point, even in traffic. If it does show strange signs then the viscous fan is the first place to look; make sure it is engaging and disengaging as it should. Then it’s time to check the radiator as these tend to corrode and then leak from the end caps. Also check that the hoses and expansion tank haven’t perished and are leaking coolant as, although it’s fairly rare, this could kill a headgasket.
Wheels, tyres and brakes Secondhand E28s tend to wear either their original wheels, alloys borrowed from another model, or aftermarket replacements. As long as they fit properly and are in keeping with the car then it doesn’t make much of a difference. Be aware, though, that any wheel wobble at speed could be linked to the wheels and tyres, no matter how good they look.
While you’re inspecting the wheels it’s always worth checking the tyres closely, both front and rear, as odd wear patterns are a certain indication that something is wrong suspension-, chassis- or steering-wise.
When it comes to brakes, there are a few common faults. The calipers tend to seize over time, dragging on the disc. It this happens it will require a refurb to make them new again. A faulty master cylinder can also cause dragging brakes, and is likely to be the main culprit for a poor pedal-feel, too. Brake lines are known to corrode and replacing them front to back is a tricky job but should improve a lifeless brake pedal, as will lubricating the linkage to the master cylinder. If the ‘brake’ icon ever illuminates on the dashboard whilst braking then it’s most likely that the brake booster or power regulator, known as a ‘bomb’, is at fault. Warped discs will cause a brake judder, which will start at high speed but can get worse.
Finally, there’s the ABS system, if it has one fitted. The easiest way to check if it does is by looking for the ‘anti lock’ or ABS light on the dashboard, or the ABS pump under the bonnet, although the washer fluid bottle hides it quite well. When you start engine the anti lock/ABS light should come on and then go off again quickly. If it stays on, or if goes out and then comes back on when you’re driving, it means there is a problem. It’s most likely to be the trigger rings, located in each of the hubs. These often rust up and so simply cleaning them with a wire brush can cure the issue. Otherwise, it could be down to a faulty sensor, pump, or control unit (which is located above the glovebox).
If the anti lock/ #Bosch #ABS icon is on the dashboard but the light doesn’t come on at all then the bulb has been taken out or the entire ABS system has been removed. The latter is fine to pass an MoT still, the former is not, so physically check for the pump, control unit and sensors.
As you might expect with an ’80s #BMW , rust is a major problem so it’s wise to inspect any #BMW-E28 vigilantly. That’s because most of the worst rot comes from the ground up, so get a good look underneath the car if you can. Look for crunchy-looking jacking points and sills. Then check the front floorpans where they meet the bulkhead and inner sills. Ideally, lift the carpets on the inside on both sides. If this is not feasible then just feel if it’s damp. This will indicate if the drainage holes are blocked (and further possible rot) or possibly there’s a broken heater matrix.
At the rear, the axle mounts are prone to corrosion, which is costly to repair. Also check the rear panel around the numberplate lights, lock mechanism and below the tail-light area for bubbling paint, as this means rot is coming though. Then open the boot and look for signs of moisture. Both the bootlid and taillight seals are known to fail, leaking water into the boot area which will damage the carpet, trim and electrics. Inspect the boot floor and then take a look inside the spare wheel well for signs of corrosion. Working forwards, the doors can rot at the hinges and from the bottom up, as can the front wings – and this can continue along the lip of the arch. Up top, the sunroof panel can rot and any corrosion around the A-pillars and scuttle panel is particularly bad news as repairs here are complex and costly. Under the bonnet, rot can begin in between the inner wings and strut tops, again often due to blocked drainage holes. Finally, the plastics and any chrome work as these bits are hard to find and expensive to replace, if missing or damaged.
The E28 is fast maturing into a BMW icon, and whilst the M5 models are already there, the more basic six-pot cars are becoming more sought after. Prices are on the up and the days of buying a tidy car for a few hundred pounds have long gone.
There are plenty of things to look out for when buying one, but mechanically, there’s less to worry about as virtually everything is easy enough to sort. But getting into a full restoration of the bodywork quickly becomes time-consuming and wallet deflating so buy the most rot-free one you can find. That’s no reason to avoid an E28, just source a car wisely and enjoy it as a practical and wellpriced modern classic whilst you still can.
ENGINE: Straight-six, SOHC
MAX POWER: 125hp
MAX TORQUE: 122lb ft
0-62MPH: 11.8 seconds (14.4)
TOP SPEED: 115mph (111)
E28 520i post-1985
ENGINE: Straight-six, SOHC
MAX POWER: 129hp
MAX TORQUE: 128lb ft
0-62MPH: 11.4 seconds (13.3)
TOP SPEED: 118mph (114)
ENGINE: Straight-six, SOHC
MAX POWER: 150hp
MAX TORQUE: 159lb ft
0-62MPH: 9.8 seconds (11.9)
TOP SPEED: 125mph (121)
ENGINE: Straight-six, SOHC
MAX POWER: 125hp
MAX TORQUE: 177lb ft
0-62MPH: 12.2 seconds
TOP SPEED: 118mph
ENGINE: Straight-six, SOHC
MAX POWER: 184hp
MAX TORQUE: 177lb ft
0-62MPH: 8.4 seconds (10.8)
TOP SPEED: 134mph (129)
Figures in brackets for automatic
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